Chapter 61: Storm

Disorientation hits Red as he appears on the roof of the Trainer House, legs adjusting to the sudden stillness of the building below him, nose flaring as the heavy scent of the ocean is replaced with the scents of the city. He takes a moment to brace himself against the wind, which is gusting hard enough to flap his jacket and tug at his cap.

He and Leaf had changed into their traveling clothes and left a note in their room so the crew would know they’d left before going out onto the deck of the ship and teleporting back together. Red’s fear for Blue and Aiko, for himself, and most of all for Leaf were overwhelming as he summoned his abra and prepared for the unknown…

…but now that he’s here, his fear takes the backseat to a sense of awe as he gazes over the city.

Half the sky is twilight, the last gleam of light not enough to hide the stars on the deep, cloudless blue. The other half of the horizon is the dark of a starless night, storm clouds gathered in a sweeping curtain, rising up like the rough wall of a sheer mountain cliff. It’s like the storm has sucked all the clouds out of the sky into one half of it, and was now marching across to blanket it all.

“Swords of Justice,” Leaf whispers from beside him. “One pokemon did that?”

As if to punctuate her point, lightning flashes across the cloudwall, illuminating its many peaks and valleys. The thunder hits them a few seconds later, and it breaks the spell, Red’s fear resurfacing as he quickly withdraws his abra, then puts his headphones in and calls Blue. As he watches, lightning lights up a different part of the cloudwall, then another flash arcs down to the ground below it, then another far to the left. The thunder from each one hits with a few seconds between them, and Red realizes that he’s hearing what will be a constant refrain throughout the storm.

Blue answers after the fourth ring. “Red, how-”

“I’m here.” Red looks at Leaf, who’s at the railing and, looking down at the city below. “We’re here. We teleported back as soon as we saw on the news.”

“You’re… You actually…” Blue laughs. “Red, you brave, beautiful idiot! I shouldn’t have doubted you for a second!”

A particularly loud crack of thunder echoes across the city, and Red hears it both in the air around him, then a half-second later through his headset. He turns to the west. “Where are you guys?”

“Pokemon center by the harbor. We’re all here, Glen and I plan on helping out inside if we need to.” His voice loses its excitement, turning serious. “Come quick, Red, most of the trainers are already stationed somewhere.”

Red fights down his feeling of dread as he feels the wind gust around him again. The idea of getting caught out in that storm is viscerally terrifying, even though he knows objectively that it’s not the storm itself he should be worried about. He checks his map and puts in the destination. Seventeen minutes by bike. It might be faster than that estimate without traffic, but the storm is moving so quickly… “I don’t think we can make it to you, Blue.”

“Shit! Are you sure?”

“Even if everything goes right—”

“—I know, I know, it probably won’t. The other defense points are pokemon centers, city shelters, and hospitals, but I want you guys here. Together we’ll be unstoppable.”

Red grins. “Right. We’ll try.”

“Hurry, and watch yourselves!”

“You too.”

Red closes the call and turns to Leaf, who’s still staring down at the street below. He swallows, still worried about how they left things despite all that’s happening. “Leaf! We gotta go!”

She rushes over, and they head inside, taking the elevator down as he relays what Blue said.

“People are still moving through the streets,” she says, voice tense. “Most don’t seem to have pokemon with them, and… Red, a lot of them are moving on foot.”

Red stares at her, reading the same quiet horror in her expression that he feels. Most of those people wouldn’t make it to a shelter in time, why did they even leave their homes? Could they do something to help them move faster or… No, he could maybe take one person on his bike with him if they’re about his size, but there’s nothing they can do for all these people. He feels his confidence spiral again. They’re not ready for this… things are happening too quickly, he’s forgetting stuff he should be doing…

They reach the lobby and hurry over to the PCs against the wall.

“Which pokemon are you bringing?” Red asks as he deposits his metapod, then brings out his spinarak, then swaps Vermilion the abra with his pineco. Bill is in his bag rather than his belt: he has no intention of facing this situation without a way to escape.

“All of them,” Leaf says, and he sees her fill ball after ball with her pokemon, putting them on the ground after. He’s about to ask if her bag really has room for them, then sees her take a container ball out and summon its box. She pulls her spare pokebelt off it, then straps it loosely over her main one before tightening it and adding the balls. “I haven’t practiced with it much, but every pokemon might matter, here.”

Red nods, considering those he was leaving out. Metapod is the only truly “useless” pokemon he has, good for little more than a sacrificial distraction unless it evolves in the field. He chose bellsprout over oddish because they were the same types and he’d trained it more, but there’s nothing wrong with having both. And he has barely trained with his whismur, but it still has useful area of effect attacks…

Despite not having practiced at all with a second belt, Red realizes that limiting himself to six pokemon isn’t worth the risk. He doesn’t need to get used to battling with a team of six for the League, and the added physical awkwardness is less likely to kill him than the lack of options, at this stage in his journey. Even Metapod might save a life; if they need bait or a distraction, there’s no other pokemon he has that can survive hits as well, after it hardens its shell a couple times.

Red quickly takes his spare belt out too, and follows Leaf’s example by belting it over his first and taking out all his pokemon to attach them. It feels cumbersome, but not incredibly so.

His feeling of being unprepared suddenly returns with a vengeance. He’s had no time to really think or prepare for this, what else is he missing that’s as obvious as “bring all pokemon?” He grabs his notebook and starts writing as Leaf finishes attaching her biking gear, remembering his lesson from Vermilion Gym on the modes that Rangers try to ensure they’re prepared for:

1) Scout

2) Fight

3) Contain

4) Escape

What can he do to prepare for achieving these goals? He limits himself to one thing on each:

1) Scout – psychic radar

2) Fight – coordinate

3) Contain –

4) Escape – teleport

His mind races to find ways to help meaningfully “contain” a Tier 3 incident from getting worse, but can’t think of anything. Leaf is watching what he writes, clearly curious despite the nervous energy shifting her from foot to foot, and he starts summoning and putting on his own pads.

“Any quick notes on coordination that we should pre-agree to?” Red asks.

“My pokemon are better for defense and subduing,” she immediately says. “And I have better aim than you. You focus on taking them down and I’ll focus on keeping others busy or going for the capture.”

She’s right, Charmeleon, Pikachu, and Nidoran are his strongest fighters, and each is more lethal than any of hers besides maybe Beedrill. “Okay.”

“What’s psychic radar?”

“Using my ability to sense minds in quick glimpses to just get a rough idea of where they are around me.”

“You should call it psydar.” Seeing Red’s raised brow, she shrugs and smiles, nervous energy shifting her from foot to foot. “Radar stands for Radio Detection And Ranging. Lidar is Light Detection and—”

“I get it,” he says, grinning as he finishes clasping his helmet on, then writes (psydar) on the page and tucks his notebook away. “For escaping danger, our best bet is to teleport… I’ve got a sling to carry my metapod in, you could tie a shirt into one. If we carry our abra against our side, it can save us precious seconds needed to teleport out of danger.”

“Red, that’s going to make it really hard to maneuver.”

She’s right, they won’t be able to move nearly as nimbly, and any kind of roll would hurt their abra and probably interrupt the movement. He wants to argue that having an instant escape from danger makes up for it, but he’s already thought of the counter; they’d only be able to use it once, as it would effectively take them out of action and abandon anyone else who’s with them.

“Ok, just remember them as an option, then.” He puts his notebook away and stands, and they make their way to the heavy glass doors, which slide open as they approach.

“They didn’t even turn off the automatic doors?” Leaf murmurs.

“Must have been in a rush.” Red can imagine the panic because he feels it still stirring inside him, the irrational urge to just go to his room and cower in it until the storm passes… a rather outdated instinct for his hindbrain to push on him, since teleportation is a much safer option.

They step out into the dark street together and look up at the same time. The stormfront is moving visibly toward them, and they rush to summon their bikes and ride for the harbor, pushing themselves to get there before the storm envelops them.

There are people in the street making their way either home or to a shelter, and Red suddenly realizes that it was purely wishful thinking to say they would make it to Blue. He wants to be with Blue and Aiko, some part of him is sure that if he’s not there with them, something terrible will happen.

That’s nonsense and you know it, you’re not the best trainer around, they’re both better than you, just get safe…

Red shakes his head at the inner voice, distrusting it for its cowardice.

Not safe as in hiding, safe as in being with other trainers when the storm hits!

Some others are riding pokemon or bikes, or speeding down the roads in cars, last minute escapees heading northwest. But they also pass a lot of people on foot, and while he hopes they’re close to their homes, the glimpses of desperation he sees on some faces tears at his heart.

“Red!” Leaf calls out. “They…”

“I know!” he yells, but pedals harder. Blue said they had to make it to a defense point, and he understands why, there would be no way to save all these people in the street.

A minute of pedaling later, Red’s phone starts blaring at him. He checks it as he bikes, slowing down slightly, and sees an emergency broadcast message from the Ranger outpost at the eastern edge of Vermilion:

MASSIVE FLOCK FLYING OVER CITY SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY

Ice water floods his veins, and he finally listens to his inner nervous voice, recognizing its premortem wisdom. “Leaf! Change of plans!” He struggles to renavigate them to the nearest defense point, and finds a hospital just nine minutes away. “We’re not going to make it to the others, but there’s a hospital not far!”

“Okay!” She slows slightly so he can take the lead, and they make a hard turn at the next intersection, biking more west than south now. We’re going away from the storm now, we have more time, we can make it…

The wind grows more intense, along with the frequency and volume of the thunder. A stroke of lightning splits the darkening sky ahead of the stormfront, striking a tall building far in front of the stormfront. Another emergency message appears, and Red checks the map again before he reads it. Five minutes away…

FIRST WAVE PAST CITY LIMITS SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY

Four minutes between the flock and the first wave, they’ll be fine, they’re almost there…

Two minutes later some noise is growing over the near-constant boom of thunder, a windy rush that sounds almost like static, and Red turns toward the storm, unable to help himself. He feels his jaw drop.

The twilight sky ahead of the clouds is dark with birds, racing just ahead of the cloudbank in a loose and frenzied swarm of bodies that flap desperately to keep ahead of it. Some collide and fall, tearing into each other, while others pull further and further ahead, the strongest and fastest managing to stay safe, the gusts of air from their wings displacing those behind them.

As they get closer the roar of noise resolves into that of thousands of flapping wings. Leaf shouts a warning, and he looks around for a building they can duck into—

—and then the wind is pressing down on them as the flock passes overhead. Red’s bike is immediately blown over, sending him skidding over the pavement as the wind forces his eyes closed. His bag keeps him from rolling more than once, and Red hears not just cries and flaps of bird pokemon, but also the buzz of bugs and the crashing of glass. He opens his eyes a slit and watches the pokemon pass overhead, many of them flying too low in places and colliding with windows or billboards. Most don’t stop for anything short of an attack by another pokemon, which is itself rare despite the natural prey and predators that fly together.

All of them fleeing an indisputable master of the skies.

The wind pressure lessens as the bulk of them pass overhead, and Red sits up and looks around. Garbage cans and street signs are knocked over, and glass litters the street as windows designed to withstand hurricane-force winds were shattered by the beaks and bodies of heedless pokemon. Many of them are on the ground as well, dead or badly injured.

Red looks around for Leaf and spots her staring around in horror. Her eyes lock on something, and she struggles to her feet. He follows her gaze to see a spearow at the end of the street with a bleeding gash across its body sprinkling blood on the ground. It tries to take off, only to tumble back to the ground, one of its wings broken.

“Leaf!” he shouts, forcing himself to his feet as well. His arms and legs ache with what promise to be bruises, but his gear protected him from any serious injury. “We gotta go!”

She hesitates, turning back to him, then looks up. Her eyes widen, and she looks back at the spearow, struggling to take flight again… then rushes for her bike.

Red turns to see what scared her, then scrambles for his own. The stormcloud looks like it’s right on top of them, lightning illuminating the whole mass as it shifts in a slow, lazy circle. The thunder is near constant now, one rumble barely fading before the next one starts, and as they start to bike away again, Leaf in the lead now, Red feels his panic growing. Three minutes away… we can make it… but we never should have come here, what can we even do against this, it’s a stupid risk, I should teleport away, we can’t make it, we’re going to die…

The thoughts grow stronger, his panic rising as the winds pick up and the sky continues to darken with the onset of true night and the onrushing storm.

His legs are aching as he pedals harder, faster, trying to avoid an overturned trash bin and nearly spilling onto the street again. He can’t think, he just needs to get away, get away, GET AWAY!

Red skids to a stop and starts scrambling for Bill’s pokeball, mouth opening to shout to Leaf as he manually summons his abra…

…then remembers that Leaf doesn’t have a teleport spot outside of Vermilion.

She’s trapped here.

He has to leave her behind.

The thought comes as he watches her race away ahead of him, unaware that he’s stopped, and Red’s mind locks up as that thought hits a brick wall. He has to leave, has to, he’ll die if he stays, but she can’t leave…

She’s going to die.

“Le-!”

Thunder claps just as he yells, drowning him out. Leaf reaches the turn in the street ahead and disappears.

She’s going to die!

Red withdraws Bill and starts cycling again as the fear fills him, bending his thoughts toward nothing but running, hiding, escaping, surviving. He ignores the impulse and forces himself to cling to the thought of Leaf being left here, alone, dying without him, and races after her, bent over the handlebars. “Leaf!”

Shit, his phone! He can call her…

“Dial Leaf!” he yells, then turns the corner and sees her. She’s turned off the main road, bike leaning against her legs as she aims a pokeball at a bleeding pidgeotto, a huge shard of glass through its torso.

As Red pedals toward her and cancels the call, she throws the ball and captures it, then bikes over and picks it up.

“Leaf!” he yells as he gets closer. “What are you doing?”

She turns to him, and he feels an emotional punch hit his gut. She’s crying, face streaked with tears. “They’re hurting!” she sobs, arm wiping at her face. “There’s so many of them… you have to help me, Red! How can you just ride past them!?” She turns away and starts heading toward another downed pokemon.

Red stares at her, at a loss for words. The storm is almost on top of them, and she’s… He curses and follows after her as the panic rises up again. “Leaf, we have to go! We have to get out of the city!”

Leaf looks at him in shock. “I can’t leave them, Red, they’re going to die without me!”

Red feels like pulling his hair out. How can she be so blind, doesn’t she realize they’re all going to die anyway…

Wait…

Confusion. Something was wrong with that thought, and with how she’s acting…

A flash of light illuminates the street as lightning hits the building beside them. The thunder is oppressively loud and immediate, and behind it Red can suddenly hear something odd: the neigh of a rapidash.

It appears at the end of the street and runs through it in a blur of light. Red vibrates with a sudden preparation to bike away, but the rapidash doesn’t even glance at him or Leaf, who has paused to stare after it in awe. It just gallops past them, embers of light trailing its ignited mane and legs.

There’s another neigh behind him, and they turn to see another rapidash running toward them, followed by a dodrio. This time Red has the presence of mind to think of catching them, but they’re moving so fast he barely has time to think it before they’re upon them, then past, one after the other… and now he can dimly hear even more pokemon coming.

The first wave is here. He forgot to check the time after the flock went past. He forgot because…

Leaf smacks her cheeks with both hands, then rubs them hard. “Red, the Pressure is already here!”

Red blinks, staring at her. The Pressure can’t be here, they would feel it…

Oh.

Even recognizing that he’s under the effects of it doesn’t change the fact that he needs to RUN or HIDE or LEAVE, but the confusion from before is satisfied, just in time for him to realize that the correct choice is in fact to follow the instinct that the Pressure is promoting.

Hide!” he yells as another pair of dodrio run by, his mind registering the growing rumbling that’s not thunder, and starts biking again until he spots a two story clothing store with lights on. He turns to head straight toward it, making sure Leaf is following, and they skid to a stop in front of the door just as a crowd of pokemon turn onto their street, running wild and trampling anything in their way.

The doors slide open automatically, and as Red and Leaf rush in, biking between the clothing aisles, Red can make out the small crowd of people in the back, cowering against the walls or behind countertops.

Then the stampede arrives outside, a cacophany of different steps and cries filling the street as first a handful of pokemon run by, then a steady stream. Red turns to see nidorino, tauros, raticate, arcanine, ninetales, and others all rush by.

Red and Leaf move together off their bikes to summon Charmeleon and Raff, standing between the doors and the people in the store. Their pokemon appear, then both twitch and shiver, adjusting to the new environment… and the Pressure that’s bearing down on them.

Red feels like he’s holding his breath, and forces himself to exhale as the pokemon run by outside, muscles tense and jumping with fear and preparation… they’re all running by… they might be okay…

And then a nidorino runs into the side of a tauros and is headbutted away, sending it careening directly toward the storefront and through the automatic doors before it has a chance to fully open. Glass shatters and plastic crunches, and a quick set of commands from Red and Leaf send vines and fire whipping out to drive it back.

Instead it barrels through the pain, still spilling glass around it as it bellows and tears through racks of clothes to smash into a small pillar, cracking it.

We have to hide! “Smokescreen,” Red yells, and Charmeleon starts pouring smoke out of his tail No, wait, it’s acting randomly anyway, we need to be able to see it! “Stop!” He grits his teeth, trying to drown out the fear with anger. He has to kill this nidorino quickly before it hurts anyone, before it hurts Leaf…

“Sleep Powder!” Red turns in shock as Raff sends blue spores at the rampaging pokemon. The blue powder saturates the air, but the nidorino avoids it, not nearly injured enough to walk into the growing cloud. What’s she doing?

But he knows: just as his Pressure is driving him to fear, it’s drowning her in sadness, or maybe guilt. She’s going for the least painful attacks she can, even if they’re ineffective.

Then the Nidorino turns to him and charges, and panic makes Red yell “Ember!” as he dives aside.

The nidorino cries out in pain as it tries to get away from the fire that’s sticking to its side. It stomps through the store, throwing its horned snout around and tearing through racks of clothing… and spreading the fire to each. It gets close to one of the people hiding in the room, who screams and runs away, the movement catching the nidorino’s attention and causing it to rush toward him.

“Tackle!” Leaf yells, and Raff intercepts. The nidorino, flank still burning, is sent crashing into a row of clothing racks, and the shirts on them quickly catch fire. It shies away from it and tries to find another way out, but stops as it finds fire on every side of it, now.

Leaf lets out a dismayed cry, and runs toward it.

“Stop, Leaf!” Red says, and his pokemon stops attacking, taking the command as if directed at him. He rushes forward to grab her shirt, then freezes as the heat is felt, suddenly scared of being burned, watching in horror as she rushes straight for the flames…

…then drops to grab the bottom of one of the shirt racks, lifting the fire atop it toward the ceiling.

Water starts pouring from the sprinkler, though no fire alarm goes off. Leaf drops the rack and pulls out a pokeball, then runs through the dying flames to ping a lock and capture the nidorino. She quickly leaps back and away from the fires, even as they start dying too.

Red steps back from the powerful downpour of water, then turns back toward the front door. The stampede outside seems to be finally thinning, and soon Leaf has rejoined him with Raff, her clothes and hair soaked as they watch together for any more pokemon coming in.

They continue to run by outside, but fewer and fewer every passing second. Eventually a bibarel turns toward the broken doors for no discernible reason, only to slam into the edge of them and stumble away rather than coming inside. A young voice screams in fear anyway, which draws Red’s attention to the back of the store even as it sets his flight response into high gear again.

“It’s okay, hon, we’re safe,” the woman beside the small boy who’d screamed says, rocking his head against her stomach. She looks at Red and Leaf, eyes wide. “Th-thank you, both of you.”

It’s a little hard to hear her with the water rushing down, the constant thunder, and the cries of pokemon outside. Red shakes his head, still not relaxing. They had barely won that, they’d made so many mistakes… And he still feels an urge to just hide and stay safe, distracting him from thinking about what to do next.

It’s just fear, I can handle fear. He almost left when the Pressure first hit, but his desire to keep Leaf safe stopped him. He can do it again, he just has to focus on something to protect.

The sprinkler finally stops pouring water down, and Red takes a deep breath, then lets it out, trying to let go of all else but that thought. He shifts his mind to many-mirrors-and-a-dim-room before inverting it to shining-mirror-in-a-dim-house…

Red opens his eyes and looks around, able to think clearly at last… but finding it hard to decide what to think about. It’s strange, trying to decide what to think about, it requires thinking about other things first, trying to decide on a priority list… but what priority did he have? He enters this state to clear his head. His head is clear. Done. No more priorities.

No, wait, he had a priority before that one, which led to it… the priority was to stay alive. He’s alive now, so that’s done. Why does it matter that he even completes priorities, again? It does give him something to direct his thoughts at, which is more pleasant than when they wander aimlessly.

No, that wasn’t it either. Protecting others. That’s what he needs to focus on. What can they do next to stay safe?

Red looks around. Leaf is using a burn heal on her arm. The man that was chased by the nidorino is leaning against the wall and shaking. There’s a crashing sound outside that makes him twitch and turn, fear naked on his face, and after a moment Red turns in the same direction toward the door. It was something outside.

They’re not safe here, that much is clear. Which means they need to go elsewhere, and if they can’t go outside… “Stairs,” he says, then withdraws Charmeleon and starts walking around looking for them. He finds them in the corner, and climbs until he reaches the top to see another room full of clothes, though less wet and burned and smashed up. The five strangers follow him, with Leaf bringing up the rear. Her face and arm are slightly burned.

Red feels a strain inside, a note of something that he would normally call grief if he… wait no, it is grief, and it’s…

He lets the mental state go, and immediately shivers as the Pressure brings the fear back. He’s used his powers a lot already today on the cruise, he can’t rely on them that much. I can deal with it. They are. He looks to the others. A young mother is holding her son, who looks about 4, tight against her leg. The man who tried to run from the nidorino is leaning against a counter with his hands in his hair, and the other two are an elderly couple, their clasped hands held tight between them.

None of them have pokebelts. What the hell were they even doing out there when the storm hit?

“Red.” Leaf approaches him, cheeks still wet with tears. Wait, no, that’s the water from the sprinklers. “I’m sorry for, before…”

“It’s alright, I went a little nuts too.” Red shakes his head. “I was a hair’s breadth from just… leaving. If you weren’t here, I would have.” He still wants to, but he seems to be getting used to the feeling, at least a little, though his nerves still feel jittery, his heart pounding too fast in his ears.

He needs to calm himself. He summons Pikachu, and sits on the floor as he pulls his pokemon into his lap and strokes him. Not just for his own comfort, but also because the electric mouse seems particularly agitated. Red merges minds with his pokemon briefly, and—

—then breaks the connection with a small cry of shock.

“You okay, Red?” Leaf asks from where she’s kneeling beside Raff.

“Yeah,” he says, staring at his pokemon with wide eyes as he rubs his forehead and focuses on his body to remind himself he just has one. How are their pokemon still following orders, while feeling the terror and desperate aggression that the Pressure is forcing on them?

He should have realized he’d end up feeling the stormgod’s aura twice over, would have if the damn thing didn’t keep pushing at him to run and hide… But there was something more interesting underneath that. Some overwhelming sensory input he couldn’t process at all, but was still aware of through Pikachu. Did he just begin adapting to a new sense his pokemon has? Or maybe it’s something he sensed through Pikachu before, but in such small amounts that he never noticed…

Something crashes downstairs, and everyone turns toward the stairway as the young boy screams and cowers against his mother. “Oh, what now?” Leaf moans, mirroring Red’s thoughts as they all listen to the pokemon downstairs knock over and smash things, probably confused as it tries to get back out. There’s a cry of pain from some pokemon Red doesn’t recognize, and he glances at Leaf, but she’s holding herself together, arms tight around her middle, biting her lower lip hard.

Red turns back to the stairs, swallowing against his own fear. Whatever you are, don’t be able to go up stairs… stay down there, get out…

Something else falls over with the crash of glass, and the boy screams again. The man turns to the woman, eyes wide. “Shut that kid up,” he hisses.

She glares at him, looking like she wants to shout something back, but fear contorts her features and she starts shushing the boy, rocking him against her.

A loud banging sounds below them, somewhere near the wall, and then there’s a crash, and the sounds of battle. Something hits the first floor’s ceiling hard enough to crack the floor nearby them, and everyone scrambles toward the walls away from it.

Red gets up and rushes to the stairs. He hears a pokeball discharge and looks back to see Leaf stand by the crack with Raff, as if preparing for something to burst through.

When he reaches the bottom of the stairs he sees the huge hole in the wall, some of which is still stuck to the spikes on the carapace of the kingler smashing at a male and female nidoran that dart around it. Each one leaps forward to strike the huge crustacean as soon as it focuses on the other, biting and stinging and kicking at it until it spews a foamy stream at both, sending them scrambling for traction. The ceiling is cracked above a linoone’s limp and bloody body, which looks like it was smashed against it. Red tries to imagine how that happened before he realizes he has more important concerns.

Everything’s wet from the sprinklers going off, and Red’s hand goes to Pikachu’s ball, fumbling for a moment with the one above it. A sudden jolt of fear keeps him from pulling it off, however, imagining the pokemon not getting taken down by his first attack and all turning on him together…

This is a normal fear, it’s a justified fear, but the Pressure is amplifying it, just set it aside. He breathes deep, then lets it out as he watches the kingler scurry to the male nidoran and crash its massive claw onto it in a blow that crushes it. Red barely notes the gore, watching the female nidoran switch from trying to scramble toward the kingler to running away, out through the broken front door.

Now. Red’s arm doesn’t move, and the kingler turns itself around to search for threats… then spots him in the stairwell. NOW!

He leaps backward as another stream of foamy water shoots out, tripping over the stairs behind him and scrambling back as the attack hits his legs in a painful spray… and covering his shoes in slippery foam that would make running impossible.

Red pulls Pikachu’s ball off and aims it at the stairs above him, out of the water soaking the stairs and floor below him. “Go, Pikachu!” His pokemon appears and flinches, quivering in place until Red lifts his legs to the side and yells, “Shoot!”

Pikachu leaps forward over Red, and electricity arcs out. It bends toward a metal clothing rack to the side, but its feet are in the water, and the charging kingler falls over twitching as it slides. Pikachu lands and immediately leaps onto its back, shocking it directly this time before scrambling to avoid its flailing limbs.

Red struggles to pull a great ball out and get to his feet, shoes slipping and sliding, and nearly misses it when Pikachu, sending another jolt through the kingler, gets knocked across the room by a swing of its claw.

“Pikachu!” Red pulls the greatball out, fury and fear pumping through him. There’s a trail of blood on the ground in the direction his pokemon was flung, mixing with the water, he’s okay, he’s okay—

The kingler gets to its feet before Red does, and he’s about to unclip Oddish’s ball when he hears running footsteps behind him. Red turns to see Leaf appear, and immediately tosses her the ball. “Careful of—!” he starts, but she’s already caught it and leaping over him, feet skidding on the slippery stairs and spilling her onto her side. She rolls with it, however, a few pokeballs coming loose from her second belt, and stops herself within range to aim at the kingler as it skitters toward her.

She throws, and it bats the ball away with its small claw while raising the massive one overhead, but the contact was enough; the greatball sucks the pokemon inside as it sails away and rolls behind a service counter.

Red lets out his breath, then yells, “Pikachu, here!” as he struggles to get up again. “Leaf, are you okay?” She’s still wearing her biking gear, but he watches with concern as she pushes herself to her feet, then struggles to keep them under her.

“Fine…” She holds onto a mannequin that managed to stay up, then looks around and gasps as she takes in the bloody bodies of the linoone and nidoran. He sees her visibly shudder, then try to step forward, forgetting about what he’d stepped in. She flails for balance, nearly takes the mannequin down before righting herself, then angrily pulls the shirt off it and lifts one foot at a time to wipe off the slippery residue from the bubblebeam.

Red’s mind fills with images of his pokemon bleeding out in a corner somewhere, or with its skull caved in, and feels tears gather in his eyes. He reaches back for a side pocket on his bag where he keeps some tissues to start wiping at his own shoe soles, but they’re not nearly enough, and frustration boils up in him, an anger and feeling of unfairness similar to when he watched his spearow die.

Red yanks his shoes off and carefully gets to his feet, stepping around the bubblebeam residue and rushing toward where Pikachu flew, digging a potion and revive capsule out of his bag, ignoring the feeling of his socks getting soaked around his feet.

His heart leaps as he sees the flash of yellow against the wall, under the hanging clothes hooked against it. He crouches and carefully picks his pokemon up, remembering too late that he can use his powers to check if he’s alive.

He uses them now, and feels relief as he senses Pikachu’s mind. He quickly empties a potion bottle into the long gash that goes over his back and side.

His pokemon twitches and starts to move again as it’s healed, but Red quickly realizes something is wrong. Pikachu’s hind legs and tail are utterly still.

Red hugs his pokemon to his chest, feeling like he going to cry. He doesn’t hear Leaf approach until she puts her hand on his shoulder, and he turns to her as a tear leaks down his cheek.

“Is he?” Leaf whispers, face horrified, but then she sees Pikachu moving, and lets out a breath of relief.

“His lower spine got severed,” Red says. They could fix it at a pokemon center… maybe. Depending on how bad the injury is.

“Oh, no, poor thing.” She crouches beside him and strokes Pikachu’s head between its ears. “Withdraw him, Red, you can’t do any more for him now.”

Red nods and puts his pokemon down, whispering words of encouragement before stepping back and withdrawing him. He puts his ball carefully at the back of his lower belt, swapping its position with his spinarak, heart heavy.

Leaf wraps her arms around him, shocking Red into stillness for a moment before he awkwardly hugs her back, then squeezes. “He’ll be okay,” Leaf says, and Red nods against her shoulder, not trusting himself to speak.

Over the wind and thunder he hears another pokemon’s cry outside, either in challenge, pain, or fear. Both of them flinch, then pull apart and stare at the doorway. Nothing comes in out of the darkness.

“Here.” Leaf hands Red the kingler’s greatball.

“Thanks.” He clips it to his second belt’s remaining spot, barely feeling any joy at having caught such a powerful pokemon. His heart is still pounding, and he realizes that it’s probably not going to stop on its own, not when more crazed pokemon might rush in at any moment… “We need to…” He clears his throat. “Talk about our next step?”

“I don’t know. We should talk to the people upstairs.”

Red nods, and leads the way up, grabbing his shoes and long-stepping around the slippery spots around the stairs along the way.

Upon reaching the second floor they hear a huge crashing sound outside, a grinding rumble that goes on and on, different from thunder, and they rush to the nearest window together as Red mutters, “Oh, what now,” causing Leaf to snort in exasperated amusement.

Though night has fallen and storm clouds blot out the moon and stars, from the second floor they can make out the occasional street lights and lit windows in the distance… and the shapes of pokemon as they continue to stampede. There’s no sign of what the massive noise was, but…

“That was a building, wasn’t it?” Red murmurs, and Leaf nods, face tight. Something powerful enough to knock down buildings is out there….

“We may not be safe here,” Leaf whispers as lightning illuminates her face through the window.

“That means they won’t be either,” Red asks after the thundercrack, leaving the implication obvious.

She closes her eyes, and he doesn’t need his powers to know that she’s thinking of all those pokemon out there, hurt and dying. “We should get them to the hospital. It wasn’t far, right?”

Red checks his phone. A three minute bike ride becomes… “About a ten minute walk. But only—”

“—assuming nothing goes wrong,” they say together, and smile slightly. Hers looks as strained as Red’s feels, but he’s still glad to see it. He takes his hat off and runs a hand through his hair, trying to still his nerves, then turns back to the group of people who have regathered near the middle of the room and approaches them. He plops down onto the floor and pulls his socks off, then starts cleaning the slippery foam from his shoes with them as best he can.

“I’m Red Verres,” he says, and waits for the others to introduce themselves.

“Pam,” the mother says. “And this is Jordan.”

“Sara,” the older woman says. “This is my husband, Kaito.”

“Tony,” the lone man says, scratching at his arm.

“Where were you all going?” Red asks. “Why didn’t you stay in your homes?”

“We weren’t home when the sirens started,” Kaito says. He sounds like he’s barely holding together, clutching his wife’s hand hard as his other adjusts his glasses. “We were eating out… took a walk after, the transport services got filled or stopped, we couldn’t get one…”

“I work here,” Pam says, voice quiet. “I was doing some accounting, and my son was scared from the sirens, I had to find him, he was hiding in a bathroom and locked it…”

Red frowns at the boy, who’s pressing his face into his mom’s leg as she strokes his back, then turns to Tony, who looks defensive and upset.

“I was… napping, alright?” He shakes his head. “I’m from out of town, and my phone’s broken. Didn’t know where the nearest shelter was.”

Napping? Whatever, the whole line of questioning wasn’t important, now that he thinks about it. “Didn’t mean to sound judgemental, sorry. My friend and I were just talking about what to do next. We don’t know how safe this place will stay, and were thinking of going to the nearby hospital, at best ten minutes away, to help defend it. You guys could stay out the storm there.”

“Go back outside?” Kaito asks, a quiver in his voice as it rises. “You can’t be serious!”

“You don’t have to come with us,” Leaf says, stepping up beside Red and handing him a towel that she clearly just used to dry herself a bit. He takes it with thanks and tosses his socks aside. Pam glances at them but says nothing, and Red reminds himself to pick them back up later. “But there are others who may need our help too.”

“Would you two protect us?” Sara asks, quiet voice almost drowned out by nearby thunder.

“Of course.”

Pam hesitates. “My son, I don’t think he’d… he might get scared and panic. He doesn’t like storms, and… new things upset him.”

Shit. Red thinks of projecting calm to the boy, then realizes that if he’s having trouble even getting himself to feel that way here in the building, there’s little chance he’ll be able to while out in the storm or in a combat situation. And that’s not even taking into account his own psychic exhaustion.

He looks to Leaf, who seems as conflicted as he is. “Staying here… would it be so bad?” she murmurs.

Red closes his eyes, letting out a breath. He… really doesn’t want to go back out there.

He knows that’s the cowardice from the Pressure that he’s feeling, but there are objective reasons not to leave the relative safety of the building. That said, he didn’t leave the Cruise Convention just to hide out in a clothing store.

We saved these people, Pikachu might be crippled, that’s enough, let that be enough…

Is that the Pressure talking, or just common sense? Because if they go back out there, he knows there will more, and worse, to come.

“Pam, are there any rooms in the middle of the floor, separate from everything else that has locks on the door?” he asks, opening his eyes. Leaf is looking at him in surprise, then turns to the woman expectantly.

“No… I mean, yes, the offices, but—”

“You can open them?” She nods. “Then take everyone there.”

“I don’t… customers aren’t allowed to…”

Red isn’t sure what his expression is, but it makes Pam look nervous and Leaf cut in, voice calm but forceful. “Pam, your son isn’t safe out here, and neither are the others. Take everyone there, lock yourselves in until the thunder stops.”

“Screw that,” Tony says. “I’m not staying in an office while the place fills with pokemon. I’ll come with you two and get to a real shelter.”

Red had been about to snap at the man and tell him he doesn’t have much choice, until his final comment. What’s he going to do, say no, Tony can’t come with them? It would be easier than defending everyone at the same time, but if it’s just Leaf and Red they could use their bikes. “You don’t have a bike in there, do you?” Red asks, looking at the container ball on his belt.

The man stares at him like he asked an unreasonable question, then says, “No.”

How do non-trainers live so unprepared? He knows it’s an unfair thought, but he’s too busy thinking about ways to convince the man to stay to spare thought for being charitable. Going slow to protect 5 people makes sense, doing it for one just feels suboptimal. That might just be because he doesn’t like the man.

“We’ll stay here?” Kaito half asks his wife, who nods. “If you’ll let us,” he says to Pam. “We’ll keep out of anything.”

Pam hesitates a moment more, then her gaze flick to Tony. “Alright,” Pam agrees, seeming relieved that he won’t be with them.

Dammit. Red is glad the older folks wouldn’t be more people for them to watch over, but now convincing Tony to stay might cause trouble with Pam.

“Take us there now,” Red says as he takes his container ball out and grabs some new socks, then pulls his shoes on. “I have an idea to keep you guys a bit safer.”

They reach the administration wing, the whole thing set against a wall of the building with multiple rooms inside. “Stay in one of the middle ones, not too close to the building’s wall or these inner walls,” Leaf says.

Red brings his pineco out, near where the administration wall meets the building wall, then lifts it up and says, “Set!” The pineco shivers, then starts dropping sharp shards of its hard shell, the patter of the razor thin chitin faint on the carpet as Red starts walking backwards, repeating the command as needed.

Leaf does the same with her own pineco from the other side, and soon they reach the door. “Ok, get in. We’ll spread this in front afterward. Watch your step when you end up leaving, you’ll have to jump over it. Oh and be careful on the stairs.”

“Thank you, both of you,” Pam says, then leads her son inside. The elderly couple echo her, and then Red looks at Tony.

“Last chance to stay,” he says. “I’m pretty positive this will be safer for you than coming outside with us.”

Tony hesitates, then shakes his head. Red suppresses a sigh and finishes spreading more spikes, then withdraws his pokemon, whose bottom half now looks somewhat bare.

Leaf walks behind him and Tony to spread more spikes along the stairs as they go down. The first floor is still empty, but they’re still cautious as they make their way to the door.

Red reaches it and holds a hand up so Tony and Leaf stop. He pokes his head out and looks around. “Nothing I can see.”

“More waves are probably coming,” Leaf says, and checks her phone. “The slower pokemon.” She grimaces and tucks it away. “No signal.”

Red has none either. “Guess we’re on our own.” Shit, I forgot to tell Blue we wouldn’t be coming… He looks up at the black sky as lightning flashes nearly constantly. No rain, yet, but he can’t risk bringing Charmeleon out when it could come pouring down at any time.

Instead he summons Nidoran, then Bellsprout. Red watches his pokemon to see how they’re reacting to the Pressure. Both are tense, Nidoran’s ears twitching madly in every direction. Probably hearing pokemon that Red can’t.

Thunder cracks at the same time as a blinding flash of lightning, making Red jerk in fear, adrenaline pumping through him and setting his nerves on edge. He lets out an angry sigh as he tries to calm himself down again. It’s been barely an hour since the flock went over us, and I already feel like taking a nap… somewhere far away or deeply protected. He pushes back the instinct to run back upstairs and hide with the others, sucking in a deep breath, then letting it out slowly. It takes some time, but little by little he regains some sense of calm, and sends his psychic sense outward in a quick burst.

Other than the minds of Tony, Leaf, their pokemon, and the four upstairs, he senses nothing. He sends another pulse out just to be sure, then asks, “You guys ready?”

“Yes, dammit,” Tony mutters, breaths coming too fast.

“Ready,” Leaf says, voice steady, but with a tense edge.

“Okay. Follow me,” Red says, and leads them out into the storm, hoping he’s not about to get them all killed.

They’re not five steps away from the building when rain begins to fall.

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